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Illinois is set to provide critical new protections for immigrant survivors of violence after the House of Representatives passed a final vote on November 27 to override a veto of the Voices of Immigrant Communities Empowering Survivors (VOICES) Act (SB 34). With a bipartisan supermajority vote of 73-34, the Illinois House of Representatives joined the Senate in overriding Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of the bill.

“We are thrilled for the hundreds of immigrants and families we serve every year who are survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and other violent crimes in Illinois and will now have fair access to protection under the VOICES Act,” said Trisha Teofilo Olave, senior legal supervisor at the National Immigrant Justice Center. “At a time when so many people in our communities feel threatened by rhetoric and policies at the federal level, we are grateful that our state lawmakers have used the power they have to improve protections for Illinois residents.”

The VOICES Act ensures that immigrant survivors of trafficking and certain qualifying violent crimes will have uniform access to the U or T visa throughout the state of Illinois. In order for an immigrant survivor of crime to qualify for U or T visas, they must first obtain a signed certification from the relevant law enforcement agency affirming the applicant’s willingness to cooperate in the investigation or prosecution of the case. The signed law enforcement certification allows survivors to proceed with the full visa application before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. A 2017 report by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights found disparate handling of certification cases across Illinois, which arbitrarily blocked some eligible survivors from access to immigration protection.

This victory for immigrant and survivors’ rights was the result of more than two years of advocacy by the Campaign for a Welcoming Illinois, a diverse grassroots coalition dedicated to advancing protections so that all Illinoisans live in welcoming and secure conditions. The bill was sponsored in the Illinois Senate by Senate President John Cullerton and Senator Julie Morrison, and in the Illinois House of Representatives by Representatives Lisa Hernandez, Litesa Wallace, Margo McDermed, Emanuel “Chris” Welch, and Juliana Stratton.

The VOICES Act takes effect June 2019.